Credential dumping is so crucial to modern hacking operations, Serper says, that he finds in analyses of victim networks that it often precedes even the other basic moves hackers make after gaining access to a single computer, such as installing persistent malware that will survive if the user reboots the machine.
Today, that story has taken on a larger life still. As The Cuckoo’s Egg hits its 30th anniversary, the book has sold more than 1 million copies. And for a smaller core of cybersecurity practitioners within that massive readership, it’s become a kind of legend: the ur-narrative of a lone hacker hunter, a text that has inspired an entire generation of network defenders chasing their own anomalies through a vastly larger, infinitely more malicious internet.
As for 69-year-old Stoll himself, he talks about the entire series of events as if he still can’t believe all the fuss he’s caused. “I thought it was a weird, bizarre hiccup I’d stumbled into,” Stoll told me when we first spoke last year, after I called the home number he lists on the very eclectic website for his business selling klein bottles—blown-glass oddities that, topologically speaking, have only one side, with no inside or outside. “I had no idea this would become a multibillion-dollar industry. Or essential to running a large business. Or that the CEO of a credit reporting company could lose his job because of computer security. Or that thousands of people would have careers in the field. Or that national institutions in many countries around the world would devote themselves to exploiting security holes in computer networks.”
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In fact, Stoll is an unlikely legend for his cybersecurity industry admirers. On the day I visited Stoll in his Oakland home last month, just a few days after the 30th anniversary of The Cuckoo's Egg’s publication, he had spent the morning watching Mercury transit the Sun with his telescope. Stoll has a PhD in planetary astronomy and had intended to make stargazing his career before Lawrence Berkeley transferred him—not entirely voluntarily—into the IT department.